By Liz Crumbley
Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 23 - March 5, 1998Virginia has one of the fastest-growing, high-wage technology business sectors in the U.S., and in response to the resulting demand for more computer scientists and engineers the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors has approved establishment of M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in computer engineering in the university's Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE).
According to the Blueprint for Technology, issued by the Virginia Technology Summit in May 1997 as a comprehensive plan to position Virginia as a national technology leader, Virginia must increase the number of high-tech workers or face the loss of technology jobs to other states.
In Northern Virginia, which now has the second-highest regional concentration of high-tech companies in the nation, about 19,000 job vacancies exist among high-technology companies. Multi-billion dollar investments by Motorola, Siemens/Motorola, IBM/Toshiba, Gateway 2000, and Oracle will greatly expand the demand for high-tech employees in much of the state.
"We have increased annual funding by $500,000 in electrical and computer engineering and by about $100,000 in computer science to respond to the needs of industry," said Virginia Tech President Paul Torgersen. "We expect to meet those needs by training more skilled engineers and scientists for high-tech jobs, both at our Blacksburg campus and the Northern Virginia Graduate Center."
Virginia Tech already offers a B.S. degree in computer engineering, but Old Dominion University is the only school in the state with a graduate program in the subject. As a temporary measure to respond to the demand for advanced computer training, Tech currently offers graduate computer engineering as an option within electrical engineering.
Tech's proposed graduate computer-engineering program will include in-depth courses in computer engineering with a balanced exposure to hardware and software. The computer program also will require more mathematics than the existing electrical-engineering graduate program.
The ECE department expects 40 M.S. and 10 Ph.D. students annually in computer engineering. A demand for computer-engineering training at Tech has been proven: the number of students enrolled in ECE's computer-engineering undergraduate program increased from 197 in fall semester 1995 to 412 in fall 1997.
Students in computer engineering can reap the financial benefits of the growing job market in that field, said Leonard Ferrari, ECE department head. "A 1995 report by Money magazine claims that computer engineers earn significantly more on average than their engineering and computer science counterparts."